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MLS Preview: LA Galaxy at Philadelphia Union

May 15, 2013, 3:01 PM EDT

Jose Villarreal AP

It’s not just that the Galaxy have lost their last two games. If you want to start worrying about the defending champions (which, you shouldn’t), you can start with LA’s March 30 visit to Toronto. Beginning with that match, a 2-2 draw at BMO, Bruce Arena’s side has only two wins in eight games (counting CONCACAF Champions League). While their two victories were impressive – mauling Sporting Kansas City before a 2-0 victory at Rio Tinto – super team skeptics have given enough fodder to pick from.

But beyond the precedent of last year, when Los Angeles did a spring face plant before retaining their MLS Cup, there’s another reason we should refrain from judging LA took harshly. And thankfully, that reason gives us a great excuse to keep tuning into these uneven performances, even as stars like Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, and Todd Dunivant are either out or rounding into form.

During these early, low leverage, regular season games, Bruce Arena is testing out the fruits of LA’s development system. Be it from home grown hype of youth national team contributions, they’re players we’ve been hearing about for some time, but as Arena tries them out over the season’s first two months, we’ll see which prospects can have an impact on LA’s question for a third-straight title:

  • Twenty-two year old Greg Cohchrane has been getting Dunivant’s starts at left back, and while early returns have been mixed (he struggled this weekend in Vancouver), that’s what this process is all about. Arena gets to see who will and won’t be part of the puzzle come August.
  • Jack McBean, who doesn’t turn 19 until December, is out with a broken (and since, repaired) clavicle. When he returns, he looks set to have some role in Arena’s attack. In seven appearances (370 minutes), the home grown product has a goal and two assists.
  • Jose Villarreal, a key to the U.S> qualifying for this summer’s U-20 World Cup, is getting playing time at 19, posted a goal and an assist in 348 minutes.
  • Midfielder Hector Jimenez has been given two starts, highly-touted Gyasi Zardes is back from injury, while rookie Charlie Rugg already has his first MLS goal.

Beyond the production, the important thing about this group is there mere playing time. Whether they’ll see as many minutes at the end of the year – after the Galaxy get fully healthy, acquire a third Designated Player, and potentially shop for another Christian Wilhelmsson – remains to be seen, but tonight in Philadelphia, you’ll likely see a number of the Galaxy kids on display.

For all those prospects, the trip to Chester presents an intriguing test. It’s a very winnable game, particularly with Omar Gonzalez fully capable of neutralizing Jack McInerney. The Union, a weak attack even when Jack Man’s on form, have only six non-McInerney goals in 15 games. Gonzalez may have his hands full with Conor Casey, but with McInerney already on seven goals, the Galaxy will be sure to have the league’s best defender keep an eye on the ascending poacher.

If Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza can limit McInerney, then Landon Donovan, Mike Magee, and that strong midfield duo should be able to take full points at PPL Park. If any of the kids chip in, they’ll improve their odds of playing a part when Arena’s team truly comes together.

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